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Helping College Students with Disabilities

Updated on October 29, 2012 | Source

Disabilities and College

Going to college is a rite of passage and, some would argue, a necessity for young people today. The typical student can find their first year of college to be overwhelming because it comes with so many changes, from a new residence to more difficult classes. If this transition is difficult for those students without disabilities, one can only imagine the difficulties those with disabilities must face.

Most people know that students with disabilities are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act, which mandates equal opportunity. The requirements include the need to provide wheelchair accessibility, texts in braile, and help for the hearing impaired. When most people think of this law, they think of those with physical disabilities, those that are readily apparent to the average person.

However, there are actually more people these days with hidden disabilities. These include things like ADHD, Asperger's Syndrom or other learning disabilities that have a profound impact on the person who is affected. A person diagnosed with one of these conditions usually has an average or above average IQ so the ability to succeed in college is not hindered by a lack of understanding. Instead, it's hindered by a unique learning style or need that can and should be accommodated.

Self Help for College Students with Disabilities

There are many things new college students with hidden disabilities can help themselves to be more effective.

  • Determine your learning style: Everyone has a unique learning style. You may learn best visually, verbally, aurally, physically, or socially. You can visit and take a free inventory to see how you learn best. Once you know, try to tailor your college experience to take advantage of your strongest learning style. For example, if you learn best visually, re-read your class notes and skim through your textbook in preparation for an exam.
  • Get organized: When you get busy and need to stay on top of many things at once, organization is imperative. Find an use an organizational system that works for you. Some find that a paper daily planner works best, others use electronic planners and calendars. For some, it works well to use a binder for each class with tabs for each section such as the syllabus, class notes, homework, etc. Others might find an electronic organization system works best. Whatever it is, use it, perfect it and stick with it! It's even more important for students with hidden disabilities to keep organized since this can often be one of their needs.
  • Develop study habits: Find a time and place each day for studying and stick with it. If you have ADHD, find a quiet place that's free of distractions. Stay away from other people if you find it too distracting. Since your schedule might be different each day, you'll need to pick a different time for each day. Organize your study time by using your planner to understand what needs to get done and practice prioritization.
  • Ask for help: Because students with disabilities are entitled to accommodations, asking for help should never be an issue. In fact, it's often best to disclose your disability early in your collegiate career. This way you'll know what resources are available at your disposal.

Other Sources of Help for College Students with Disabilities

As mentioned above, if you have a hidden disability and you know that it affects your ability to learn, telling the school before you even start is imperative. Only then will you get access to help that you may be entitled to. It could make the difference between excelling in college or just getting by. Here are some examples of the kinds of help students can expect:

  • Help with testing: You may be able to get help with testing including extended time, testing over multiple sessions, and testing in a separate location with fewer distractions.
  • Help with lectures: You may be able to get permission to record your lectures to listen to them later, get the help of a note-taking service, participate in a reading group for reading assistance, and get audio taped text books.
  • Help with your class load: You may be able to get a reduced work load, written instructions from professors, and priority registration.

This is not an exhaustive list. Each college and university will provide a different range of options. Unlike the elementary and high school years, colleges are under no obligation to identify students with disabilities. Therefore, it's very important to advocate for yourself. Start your research into this topic early by identifying colleges and universities that offer reasonable levels of accommodations for those with hidden disabilities. Then, let them know what you need for help.


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